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Then and Now

by David Westheimer


You know you are old
When you go to the gym,
Watch the ladies working out 
And wonder how they would look
With their clothes

       There is an increasing number of senior type women groaning and sweating among the more youthful hardbodies and youthful pudgies aspiring to be hardbodies who frequent the neighborhood gym where three times a week my wife, Dody, and I are on display among the weight machines.  And thats a good thing.  By working out regularly, these senior women increase their chances of being increasingly senior.
       But this is not about health and working out.  It is about nostalgia.  When I look out at this mixture of young and not so young, male and female, toiling at complex machines for every known muscle, I remember how it used to be in the gym before most of them, even the less senior seniors, were born.
      The most radical change is the very presence of what used to be known as the weaker sex.  The YMCA gym I frequented before World War II was Men Only.  If ladies worked out at all I didnt know about it.  I knew they played volley ball at the girls Y.
      No one did aerobic exercises.  Aerobics hadnt been invented yet.  Some of the guys did calisthenics but most didnt.  There was a little wooden track to trot on (jogging hadnt been invented yet, either), a pool to swim in, boxing classes, weights to lift and bags to punch. The weights were barbells and dumbbells.  Weightlifting was the big deal.  Pressing, clean and jerk, squats.  Guys asked each other, What you pressing? and often lied about how much. There were some wooden things like bowling pins, called Indian Clubs, but I never learned what you were supposed to do with them.  We battled three kinds of punching bags.  The heavy sucker hanging on chains from the ceiling, a much smaller inflated one attached to an overhead frame you could practice rhythmic jabs, left hooks and right crosses on and a little sucker called a speed bag you could make percussive music on if you knew how.  When you got thirsty you went to the water fountain and gulped ice water.
      How things have changed.  Men and women mix freely.  (Im impressed when I go to a weight machine a young woman has just vacated and have to decrease the weight so I can do my reps.)  Most of the  workers out have personal trainers to tyrannize over them.  My managing partner and I do.  I need one because since a stroke there are some exercises I cant do by myself.  He trains Dody, too, because he gave us a special deal for two.  (Another thing  that impresses me, hes made her stronger than I am.)
      The gym has barbells and dumbbells, like the gyms of my youth, but most of the fitness crowd maintain their fitness with a host of machines, machines where you pull down weights or pull them up or straight back, or row like  a boat or pull across your chest as if you were trying to hug yourself.  There are treadmills you can speed up or increase the incline, we have one at home, too, for non-gym days.  At the gym, I am whelmed when I am doing 1.8 miles an hour on a three degree incline and a slip of a girl with a ponytail next to me is jogging at five miles an hour at five degrees, and overwhelmed when she unclips her cell phone from her waist and carries on a conversation without even breathing hard.  There are machines that let you stairclimb and stationary bikes with wide seats and a back so you may recline as you pedal.  Thats the modern way.  We have a reclining bike at home, too.  Some mornings Dody warms up on it before gym.  She can pedal longer and faster than I can.  Who says its a mans world?  But the bike and treadmill are in the same room as my computer and I can run it and she cant.  However, she runs me to run it when she is an e-mail mode or wants to know who was in what movie or read the latest Rose Mula effort on SeniorWomenWeb.  (She wont read it off the monitor.  I have to print it out for her.  But I must say, it makes me feel needed.) 
       There is a water fountain but nobody uses it.  Everybody brings his or her own water in a little plastic bottle.  I never saw anyone bring his own water in my day.  Anyone who did would probably have been laughed out of the gym.
       Dody and I dont have a cell phone but we do bring our own water.  If  you want to be fit, you have to move with the times.


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